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Fuji X100 : Intelligent Flash

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Fuji X100 | 1/400 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800

You know those tiny and often useless flash units built into many smaller cameras or that pop out of the top of many DSLRs? The ones that many people totally avoid using because they seem to hurt more than help? The X100 has one of those. Here’s the thing though: I actually find it useful.

Sometimes you’re dealing with pretty crummy lighting and you need a small amount of fill, a kiss of light to hit your subject to keep them from being all shadowed up. Muah:

A few more examples of how well the fill flash works on this camera.

In these three image there was so much harsh sunlight (the sun was directly above us at this particular time of the day) that a straight shot without flash would have looked terrible. So I had my subjects look down, essentially shadowing their faces, and I popped some on camera light at them. Worked great for preserving detail in the background without completely silhouetting my subjects.

There is one problem you can run into however. You can see it in the image of the wifie above: Notice how her eyes and nose are lit by the flash, but there seems to be a loss of light from her nose down? That’s the accessory hood getting in the way:

I kind of light the spot light sort of look it gave to the image, but in most cases you’ll want to remove the X100’s lens hood (if you have one) before you use the flash.


Fuji X100 |  1/950 sec, f/2, ISO 400

I wrote a post a while back that covered the X100’s ability to sync with my SB-900 flashgun at crazy high shutter speeds. That high speed sync helps the camera’s tiny, relatively low-powered built-in flash as well, allowing you to shoot wide open and still light a heavily backlit subject with it, as seen in the example above.


Left: Fuji X100 | 1/30 sec, f/2, ISO 3200 || Right: Fuji X100 | 1/40 sec, f/2, ISO 3200

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t go out of my way to use that tiny little on-camera flash. Sometimes however, using it becomes the difference between getting a shot and not getting a shot. In that sort of situation, I’m pretty surprised at how easy it is to get natural results with the built-in flash. Low light portraits are a good example (above).

Ever use flash to take someone’s photo in a dark room or outside at night and get a super bright or even blown-out subject with a black hole for a background? Yuck. You can usually compensate by manually using a slower shutter speed to burn in some ambient while you mix your flash in to get a better image, or in the X100’s case, just turn the flash on and shoot.  Both of the low light shots above were taken in Aperture Priority Auto. All I did was turn the flash on and the camera did the rest, properly exposing my subject and balancing in the ambient (whatever little amount of ambient there was anyway).

Of course, human beings are not the only subjects the little flash can help you out with:


Fuji X100 | 1/750 sec, f/10, ISO 400

A little on-axis fill to lessen the harsh shadows on Bo Bear here. Also comes in handy for bringing a little more detail out of heavily shadowed areas of your frame. Check out the difference in detail, especially inside the shadowed area of the gas pump on the right, between the first image shot without flash, and the second with flash activated:


Fuji X100 | 1/340 sec, f/5, ISO 800 (flash off)


Fuji X100 | 1/300 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800 (flash on)

I like that the results are subtle. They don’t scream “taken with flash!!!!”


Fuji X100 | 1/220 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200

These leaves were pretty heavily shadowed. Use the flash to lighten them up against the background.

I must say, when I first saw the little built-in flash on the X100 I just chuckled. But hey, it comes in handy. Fuji calls it an “intelligent flash.” Seems like an appropriate name considering how easy it is to get natural results with it.  Good job, Fuji!

Written by Jonathan

July 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Olympus PEN E-PL2: First Impression

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My entry into digital photography began with a high-end compact camera (Lumix LX3). I still have one in fact: The excellent Canon S90. I love it, but there’s no way around that tiny sensor. You have very limited control over depth of field, and detail suffers at higher ISOs in even the most advanced point and shoots. Naturally, I progressed to a DSLR, with a D700 as my main weapon of choice these days. There’s only one problem with the otherwise wonderful imaging machine that is the D700, however: It’s huge!

I’m the kind of person that carries my camera everywhere I go, and in many cases, especially if I’m going out with the purpose of photography, the D700’s mass doesn’t really bug me. On all day outings, simple trips to the store or on other errands, or just grabbing some dinner with friends, however, it can start to feel like a burdensome anchor over my shoulder after a while. I’ve been wanting something smaller for such occasions.

Ever since Micro Four Thirds cameras started appearing on the market, I’ve been pretty intrigued by the concept of a small, lightweight, large sensor (compared to a compact), interchangeable lens camera system. The technology has matured somewhat now, and these little cameras have become quite popular.  For me, the appeal is simple: compact body, DSLR-like image quality. A camera that I can grab when the size of my DSLR may not practical for a given situation, but that at the same time gives me more than my point-and-shoot does as far as image quality. Recently, I met up with a friend who let me take a look at her Panasonic GF-1. After playing with the camera for a few minutes, I was sold on the m4/3 system.

Enter the Olympus PEN E-PL2

I ordered the E-PL2 together with the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens, which gives me a 40mm full-frame equivalent angle of view through the viewfi—uh, LCD. I must say, the lens looks pretty slick on the camera’s silver body.

This little “first impression” review will cover a few of my thoughts about the camera since I received it last week. This is not a review unit. I carefully considered which camera I wanted to acquire to fill the gap between my point and shoot and my DSLR, and finally added the E-PL2 to my gear bag. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the camera continually in future blog posts.

The EPL2 is a modest update to the recently released E-PL1, a camera that seemed to bring mirrorless interchangable lens cameras to the masses by offering a model at a much lower price point than the flagship E-P2. From what I’ve read, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the E-PL2 and E-PL1. I won’t bore you with an exhaustive list, but there are some key updates that do matter to me:

One difference is the rear LCD screen. Size and resolution have been bumped up to 3 inches, 420k dots. Can’t hold a candle to the 920k dot screen on the back of my D700, but it still looks great and I have no problems using the LCD for manual focus. The AP2 port (covered by the hot shoe cover above) accepts some pretty neat accessories, most notably a high-resolution electronic viewfinder that I didn’t order just yet for myself. I’m not one of those “I must have an eye-level viewfinder or I can’t take pictures” photographers. Maybe all my iphoneography has weened me off of the concept =)

Another change is the addition of a clickable command dial around the OK button on the back of the camera. Unfortunately, this is one aspect of the camera I’m not entirely thrilled about. For such a critical control point, the command dial feels a little fiddly. Likely to make room for the larger LCD, the dial is placed very close to the edge of the camera body, making it somewhat awkward and cramped to use at times. Not a deal breaker by any means, but rather a design quirk that takes some getting used to.

The E-PL2 comes kitted with an updated standard zoom, the Olympus M. Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 MSC (Movie and Still Compatible) lens. I have a feeling I won’t be using the zoom all that much. The 20mm f/1.7 is faster, more fun to use, and is more compact.

However, the kit lens does seem to perform pretty well optically, and focuses surprisingly fast. Zoom and focus ring action, as well as internal focus mechanisms, are smooth and silent in operation, preventing lens sounds from finding their way into the audio track of your videos.

This is my first Olympus camera since my film days! I’m actually planning on purchasing the Olympus OM to m4/3 mount adapter, which will allow me to use the F. Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 (shown right) on my E-PL2. Pretty exciting to be able to use legacy lenses on this new camera.

I didn’t want to spend all day on these product shots, but here’s a quick photo of the E-PL2 between my Canon S90 and Nikon D40. The E-PL2 is certainly not pocketable like the S90 is, but its size and weight make it perfect for either a large coat pocket or small bag.  With the 20mm pancake mounted, the size and weight of the E-PL2 feels similar to that of a high-end compact like the Panasonic LX3/5 or Canon G12. I keep mine in a little messenger bag, and walking around town I can’t even tell it’s in there.

The built in pop-up can remote-command off-camera flash guns. The strobist in me is very intrigued by this feature…

A slightly fiddly command dial aside,  the E-PL2 operates very well ergonomically. The grip is comfortable, and the camera feels solid and very well made. Performance is also very snappy, making the camera a joy to use overall. Ok, enough about the camera itself. I didn’t spend all weekend staring at it, I was out taking pictures! Below are a few samples. Enjoy!


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/4, 1/400 second, ISO200

Note that as of the writing of this post, Adobe Camera Raw does not support the E-PL2’s raw image files, so I don’t have the ability to process the raw image data from the camera in Lightroom 3 just yet. I guess it’s good that I did my recent JPEG experiment! All of these images are therefore processed in-camera. I’ve heard great things about the Olympus JPEG engine, and I must say, the E-PL2’s JPEG output does not disappoint. I love the way it renders colors, particularly blue skies:


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/3.5, 1/320 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/5.6, 1/800 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/5.6, 1/800 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/6.3, 1/1000 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/4.5, 1/500 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/6.3, 1/1000 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 14mm, f/9, 1/400 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 14mm, f/8, 1/320 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 14mm, f/10, 1/620 second, ISO200 (-0.3EV)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/6.3, 1/1000 second, ISO200

Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 21mm, f/10, 1/400 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/5.6, 1/800 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/3.5, 1/320 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/5, 1/500 second, ISO200

Metering is very dependable, consistent, and accurate. I very rarely have to nudge the camera with any exposure compensation.

Some Closeups:


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 42mm, f/11, 1/100 second, ISO200 (-0.3EV)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/125 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/2500 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/500 second, ISO200 (-0.3EV)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/250 second, ISO200 (-0.3EV)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/125 second, ISO200 (Monotone)

ART FILTERS:

Since I’ve never really shot with an Olympus digital camera, this is my first experience with in-camera Art Filters. You could dismiss this feature as a gimmick I suppose, but I found the filters to be incredibly fun to use.

The filter effects are overlayed onto the view screen in real-time as you compose, giving you a preview of the Art Filter’s effect before you take the shot, and multiple filters can be stacked. It’s really cool!

I found myself gravitating towards the Pin Hole Filter:


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/5.6, 1/500 second, ISO200 (Pin Hole, -0.7EV)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/25 second, ISO200 (Pin Hole)


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 14mm, f/8, 1/400 second, ISO200 (Pin Hole, -0.3EV)


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 27mm, f/11, 1/400 second, ISO200 (Pin Hole)


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 14mm, f/9, 1/500 second, ISO200 (Pin Hole)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/6.3, 1/1000 second, ISO200 (Pin Hole)


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 14mm, f/9, 1/500 second, ISO200 (Pin Hole)


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 14mm, f/8, 1/400 second, ISO200 (Pin Hole)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/5.6, 1/800 second, ISO200 (Pin Hole)

Another neat Art Filter is Diorama, which gives your images that tilt-shifted, miniaturized look:


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 14mm, f/10, 1/500 second, ISO200 (Diorama, -0.7EV)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/3.2, 1/250 second, ISO200 (Diorama)

Perhaps my favorite would be Grainy Film. This filter gives you that high-speed, black and white film look:


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/125 second, ISO200 (Grainy Film)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/13 second, ISO200 (Grainy Film)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/1250 second, ISO200 (Grainy Film, -0.3EV)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/2.8, 1/200 second, ISO200 (Grainy Film)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/4, 1/400 second, ISO200 (Grainy Film)


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 33mm, f/5.6, 1/100 second, ISO200 (Grainy Film)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/5.6, 1/800 second, ISO200 (Grainy Film)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/2.5, 1/800 second, ISO200 (Grainy Film)


Olympus EPL2 + Olympus M.14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II | 14mm, f/6.3, 1/250 second, ISO200 (Grainy Film)

I haven’t used this one that much yet, but here’s a couple snaps using the Pop Art filter, which boosts color and contrast to almost ridiculous levels:


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/125 second, ISO200 (Pop Art)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/4000 second, ISO200 (Pop Art)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/400 second, ISO200 (Pop Art)

One new filter that I haven’t shown here is Dramatic Tone. I have yet to take a picture using this filter that doesn’t look positively ghastly. I’ll keep trying ;)

Low Light Shooting

Over the weekend, someone asked me why I chose the E-PL2 over the Panasonic GF2, or even the highly regarded GF1. Indeed, it was the GF1 that got me hooked on the idea of a m4/3 system in the first place, so what gives? For me, there is one critical feature missing in the Panasonic GFs that is built into all of the Olympus digital Pen cameras: in-camera, sensor-shift image stabilization.

With a stabilized body, any lens you stick on the E-PL2, from a modern zoom to an old manual prime, gets the added benefit of stabilization. Combining a stabilized body, therefore, with a fast prime like the 20mm f/1.7, allows you shoot at wide apertures while using impossible-to-hand-hold shutter speeds. To get a better idea of what this can mean for low-light photography, check out some samples below, all taken hand-held. Note the shutter speeds as well as the ISO settings on each image:


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/13 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7,  1/20 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7,  1/10 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7,  1/10 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7,  1/30, second ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/13 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/13 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7,  1/10 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/4 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7,  1/8 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7,  1/20 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7,  1/20 second, ISO200

Notice that I’m hand-holding the camera at shutter speeds down to 1/4 second and getting getting clean, detailed night shots without having to boost ISO beyond base level.  I don’t expect the high ISO abilities of the E-PL2 to be anywhere near what my D700 is capable of, so the extra help I get from the sensor-shift stabilizer to keep my ISO as low as possible when hand-holding in low light is really appreciated.

Shots of Suki

Of course, no post would be complete with out some shots of Suki. The E-PL2’s continuous auto focus is not quite fast enough to keep up with Suki if she’s moving erratically, but you can still get shots of your pet with this camera.


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/6.3, 1/1000 second, ISO200

Can a fox become man’s best friend? Of course! My best friend is a fox =P


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/1000 second, ISO200

She IS a fox. =)


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/1250 second, ISO200


Olympus EPL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | f/1.7, 1/80 second, ISO200

I absolutely love this camera so far. I find the image quality to be excellent, and the size and weight are refreshing. The E-PL2 is easy to carry around all day, it’s inconspicuous, and best of all, it’s downright fun to use. I can see myself traveling with just this camera and one lens and be completely satisfied. Stay tuned for more images, and some video testing as well! I’m off to do more shooting with the E-PL2.

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Product Shots: Nikon D700 + Nikkor AFS 24mm f/1.4G | Nikkor AFS 24-120mm f/4 VR II

Best iPad Case Ever

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After about 2 weeks of waiting, my Dodo case for iPad has finally arrived. Until this time I’ve been using the Apple case, which is overpriced and not nearly as beautiful and sophisticated as this one. Such beauty was begging to be photographed:

Each Dodo case is made in my hometown here in San Francisco, California. Guess that explains why I got it the same day I received a shipping notification. These things sell like crazy, so much so that I was expecting to wait up to six weeks for mine. I’m thrilled that it came in only two.

The bamboo frame smells and feels like it was just milled today. As I took the case out of its packaging, I noticed that there were still small bamboo fragments inside from cutting the bamboo. I’m sure they can’t make these things fast enough!

Fit and finish?  Absolutely perfect with the iPad.

I love how the design mimics a Moleskin notebook. At first glance you’d think it was one, with its black textured cover and elastic strap.  This is the coolest iPad case I’ve ever seen. Seriously.

Suki doesn’t care =)

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Images: Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8VC

Written by Jonathan

September 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm